Happy 50th anniversary, Special Olympics!

August 2, 2018 Blog, Events, Featured

The Eternal Flame of Hope monument now permanently outside Soldier Field

The Eternal Flame of Hope monument now permanently outside Soldier Field

The Inclusion Revolution was born in Chicago on July 20, 1968. 50 years later to the day, over 40 SOWI athletes, staff, parents, coaches, mentors, members of law enforcement, members of the Board of Directors, and fans journeyed to Chicago to celebrate Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary by taking part in a commemorative Torch Run, witnessing the lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope or watching international Unified soccer!

Wisconsin was well represented in the Torch Run, with several athletes, members of law enforcement, staff and youth leaders helping escort the Flame of Hope in the two-mile run that eventually made its way to Soldier Field and the new, permanent installation just outside the stadium that will serve as an eternal monument to Special Olympics.

SOWI staff Britney Hoegh and Don Wigington, along with youth leaders Hannah Roehrig and Jessica Gerhartz of Brillion, participate in the Torch Run for Special Olympics' 50th anniversary

(L to R, celebrating) SOWI staff members Brittany Hoegh and Don Wigington, along with SOWI Unified Champion School leaders Jessica Gerhartz and Hannah Roehrig of Brillion, in the commemorative Torch Run for Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary

“We’ve come so far in the first 50 years but I can’t wait to see where we go from here.” – SOWI athlete Jerry Halboth

Veteran athletes Jerry Halboth of the Walworth County agency and Zechariah Tietz of Team Milwaukee were the athletes representing SOWI in the Torch Run. Both are passionate and seasoned advocates for Special Olympics. They are also former teammates from when they competed together on the athletics squad for Team Wisconsin at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey. They got to run alongside each other once again as they were both among the 25 athletes and members of law enforcement who led the pack of hundreds in the Torch Run and got to take turns carrying the Flame of Hope.

“Running in the Torch Run was a mind-blowing, memorable moment. My head is still spinning when I think about it,” Halboth said. ” To be one of 25 people from around the world who was able to carry the torch into Soldier Field was such an honor.”

The run also served as a nice warm-up for Tietz, who next year will be running in the Final Leg for the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Law enforcement representing SOWI included some of the state’s most dedicated Special Olympics supporters like Lori Casper of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Niki Nelson of the Waukesha Police Department, and retired Milwaukee Police Department officer Kathy Schult.

“It was an incredible sight to see the many athletes and officers from around the world participate in the Torch Run for the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics,” Nelson said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the run and to witness the lighting of the Flame of Hope.”


The SOWI group at the lighting ceremony for the Eternal Flame of Hope

For Nelson, the run likely also brought back fond memories of her trip to Austria last year to run in the Final Leg for the 2017 World Winter Games.

Upon arriving at the gleaming new Eternal Flame of Hope, beautifully conceived and constructed by acclaimed Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt, the torch runners were joined by hundreds of supporters for the lighting of the torch ceremony. Some of the area’s top elected officials like Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke at the base of the new monument. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who helped Eunice Kennedy Shriver start Special Olympics 50 years ago, spoke about what the enduring spirit of the movement meant to her and all involved.

SOWI Hall of Famers Cindy Bentley (L) and Martha Hill (R) with Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver

SOWI Hall of Famers Cindy Bentley (L) and Martha Hill (R) with their old friend, Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver

Special Olympics Global Messenger Kester Edwards spoke on behalf of the millions of Special Olympics athletes who have been so brave in the attempt over the decades, and Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver was able to get in a quick word about what his mother would have thought about the achievement before a heavy downpour abruptly ended the ceremony.

Although the ceremony ended, the Flame of Hope will not. It will stay lit atop the permanent monument at all times on a street now renamed Special Olympics Drive.

14 miles to the southwest of Soldier Field, another contingent of SOWI athletes and staff represented Wisconsin for the 50th celebration at Toyota Park. 13 Athlete Health Messengers from Team Milwaukee and the surrounding area volunteered for the Unified Cup soccer tournament held as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. In addition to lending a hand at the hydration station, the athletes were able to enjoy watching soccer games between elite Unified teams. Although the teams were from all over the world, they all shared the spirit of Special Olympics.

The SOWI group at Toyota Park for the Unified Cup

The SOWI group at Toyota Park for the Unified Cup

Being so close to the site of the original Special Olympics Games 50 years ago, it was pretty special that so many people from Wisconsin were able to share in person the celebratory Special Olympics spirit with the city of Chicago and people visiting from around the world. It was truly a SOWI road trip to remember.

“I feel totally blessed to have been a part of this historic event. We’ve come so far in the first 50 years but I can’t wait to see where we go from here,” Halboth said.

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